Many of us have heard of the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In that commonly spoken prayer, there is one small word that carries with it a tremendous concept: “accept”. The reason I want to focus on just this aspect of the prayer is because I believe that this first out of three concepts presented, allows for space for the other two. Acceptance really can hold the key to serenity in many ways.

We can also see this pattern reflected in the basic components of stress management. First step in stress management is to identify what about your stressor(s) you can and cannot change. The next steps involve applying your energies accordingly. So, then, what to do we do with the numerous people, places, and things that we cannot change or control? Let me introduce you to the concept of Radical Acceptance.

Radical Acceptance is used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and is also a concept in some spiritual belief systems such as Buddhism. Essentially, radical acceptance means that you accept something completely without judging it. Easier said than done, right? Well, they don’t call it “radical” for nothing. This concept should be applied to a present situation or circumstance, to another person’s behaviors and choices, or even to self or life in general.

What you are doing in radical acceptance is that you accept something or someone for how it is, without judgement and without trying to fight it, get mad about it, or change it into something that it’s not. What you are doing at that moment is releasing yourself from your own reactions. So often we get “caught up” in emotional reactions to situations or may find ourselves victim to circumstance. When this happens we aren’t recognizing our part, we aren’t realizing that we have a role in ending up where we end up emotionally. We are giving total control to that circumstance or that other person, instead of choosing our emotional response.

Instead, accepting that “it is what it is” and taking a more objective and focused way to coping with an issue, creates an opportunity to respond to a situation in a new way that’s less painful for yourself and others (McKay, Wood, Brantley, 2007). I’d like to stop here and point out that radical acceptance does not mean giving up, accepting bad treatment from others, or becoming hopeless (remember, the “courage to change the things that I can”?). This is about empowering yourself to work on letting go, instead of holding onto anger and blame.

Here are some examples of acceptance-based self-talk:

  • “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. And I will make more mistakes. And that’s OK.”
  • “I can’t change what’s already happened.”
  • “This is the way that it is; so what do I do next?”
  • “Her feelings are her own, I do not have to take them personally.”

What we are talking about here is a change in attitude and perspective. This concept of radical acceptance does require for some that they entirely change their approach to life! So, it probably won’t happen overnight, and it certainly does take practice.

The first step is becoming aware. We are not our thoughts and feelings. We can recognize them without so much attachment. The next step is making a choice. We can respond rather than react, we can choose what we allow to disrupt our mental and emotional peace. Sometimes in life we have control over very little. What we do have control over is our own perspective, attitude, and choices. Each day is a new opportunity to practice going with the flow, accepting ourselves and others, and making space for appreciation and compassion.

“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” Mary Engelbreit